‘Historical park designation will enhance Rota’s potential economic growth’

But Santos says landowners should be compensated at best land value; residents not restricted from hunting, taking medicinal plants

Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) expressed support to the concept of establishing Rota National Historical Park through a cooperative agreement or lease as she emphasized that any private land owners that lies in the park’s boundary shall be compensated at the best/reasonable appraisal land value.
The U.S. National Park Service held a virtual public meeting last Thursday and Saturday to present its findings and recommendations of the Rota Special Resource Study.

During Thursday’s meeting, many opposed establishing the Rota National Historical Park. Saturday’s meeting was more on questions raised by some Rota and Saipan residents, and even from Guam, about the study.
National Park Service project manager Jonathan Gervais discussed how the Rota Special Resource Study started and presented its preliminary findings.

Based on these preliminary findings, NPS staff developed three alternative concepts for the preservation and public enjoyment of these sites including: Continuation of current management; Rota National Historical Park Concept; and Rota National Monument or Preserve Concept.
Santos submitted her position to NPS and said Rota NHP will greatly enhance the island’s potential for economic growth, promote and enhance eco-tourism and visitor enjoyment, and create employment opportunities within the community.

“Significantly important is the infrastructure development such as roads, power and water that will greatly enhance and improve access for our people and visitors alike,” she said.
Santos also asked that the people of Rota will not be restricted or prohibited from harvesting local traditional medicinal plants within the proposed National Historical Park’s (NHP) boundary.
She asked that the medicinal plants on the proposed NHP boundary not be added to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants under the Endangered Species Act.
The senator also asked that the traditional hunting practices of deer and coconut crabs, during hunting season, for subsistence purposes should continue in the NHP boundary.

Santos said given with three options, she supports NHP that will include the Mochong Latte Village Complex, Alaguan Latte Village Complex, Chugai Pictograph Cave, As Nieves Latte Quarry, and the I’Chenchon Park Bird Sanctuary through a cooperative agreement or lease that could involve approximately 1,300 acres of ancient and historical sites.

While supporting the NHP’s concept, the senator shared some concerns with respect to traditional medicinal plants and traditional hunting.
She noted that the proposed NHP is home to many of local traditional medicinal plants.
She said many of their people enter these areas to harvest these medicinal plants to produce remedies for themselves or family members.

“It is a time-honored tradition that has been passed down through many generations,” Santos said.
She noted that the vast areas of public land in the NHP boundary does include critical habitat for threatened and endangered species that will be preserved.
The senator said concerns of endangered species will be alleviated.

She said NHP will have a potential effect on existing and future land use and conservation, and also has the potential to protect the valuable resources for generations to come.
Santos said public lands within critical habitat that were homestead and/or approved to be homesteaded for agricultural purposes prior to the 2004 federal designation of critical habitat should be returned so that the island may engage in adequate agricultural endeavors that will support the community.
Therefore, the senator said, the proposed NHP boundary should be used as mitigation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for the return of approximately 244 agricultural homestead lots that lie within the designated sites in As Nieves, I-Chenchon, Gampapa and Dugi.
She said this includes public land located in Mua containing 25-30 hectares designated for village homesteading and other relatively flat or gently sloping public lands for commercial purposes that will support the establishment of the NHP.

Santos said although there are several examples of tropical ecosystems found in existing units of the NPS, there are no units currently in the system containing noteworthy examples of the native limestone forests of the Mariana Islands.

NPS’ preliminary findings indicate that the island’s limestone forests, ancient Chamorro sites, and historic World War II Japanese defensive complexes meet the suitability criteria.
NPS said there are no other comparable examples of limestone forests, unique monumental Chamorro architecture, and Japanese World War II defensive structures found in the U.S. and its territories.
NPS said the limestone forests also provide important and even critical habitat for several species of endangered plants and animals.

NPS said this justifies for adding this tropical ecosystem to the National Park System.
Santos said the present level of protection appears to be inadequate for the long-term protection of Rota’s native forest, its threatened and endangered species, and its significant archaeological sites.
“Thus, we know that the NPS would employ appropriate treatments and techniques to protect these sites and their cultural values from deterioration, theft and vandalism without compromising their integrity,” she said.

Santos said as a valuable addition to the NPS, Rota will serve as a benefit to both the National Park System and the CNMI by providing a rich heritage for all to enjoy for many years go come.
On April 27, 2010, Santos also testified at the hearing before the U.S. House Committee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on H.R. 4686, a bill to authorize the Interior Secretary to study the suitability and feasibility of designating prehistoric, historic, and limestone forest sites on Rota, as a unit of the NPS.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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